what is your experience of mentoring programmes?

One reason I started this blog is that my left and right brains don’t seem to be connected to each other: I tend not to know what I think until I hear myself stating an opinion, and then I’m often horrified by what I hear. So blogging is a bit like talking to myself. Steven Pinker (I think) even suggests this — talking to oneself, not blogging — is the most plausible reason for the evolution of speech. Anyroadup, I haven’t been doing enough of either during the last few months, and I’m feeling the effects.

However, I have recently discovered the fun of asking and answering questions on LinkedIn, and I’m finding it has much the same effect as talking to myself. So when I answer a question over there, and in so doing discover I have an opinion I like, I’ll share it here too. Here’s the first one…

Andrew Calvert asked: “What is your experience of mentoring programmes? Mentoring; some think is an organic process that cannot be artificially replicated. Others think that you can assign mentors to learning partners (or mentees!) put in enough structure and have a working mentor programme. What do YOU think? Experiences?”

My answer:

I believe mentoring involves a) being a role model, and b) partnering to share knowledge. Institutional mentoring programmes (such as buddy systems for new joiners) can be great initially, but in my experience only pass on basic information. On the other hand, role modelling — and the kind of mentoring that goes along with it — has longer lasting and more positive effects.

In my work in software development I always try to involve both aspects. And I find that mentees (sic) self-select once they’ve seen that I’m working in a way that gets results. So when a developer asks for my help, he’s usually already seen how I work; I can therefore help him solve his problem in the same way.

So yes, I think mentoring is “organic” and should not be forced upon people. But organic growth always starts with a seed, and I believe that seed is the presence of role models who are willing to help and share.

Do you have experience of role modelling or mentoring programmes? Which works (best)?

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force fields of attraction

How do you introduce yourself? by Pam Slim is all about walking the talk – modifying our language to reflect our ambitions instead of our fears. I suppose this is related to NLP, and I can vouch for the fact that it does make a difference when I can present myself in terms of where I want to be, rather than where I fear I’ll end up.

That said, the reason I’m writing this is because of an almost throw-away line towards the end of Pam’s piece:

“A Buddhist friend once told me that the words that you say form a force field of attraction around you.”

ghandi This strikes me as true in so many ways. The actual choice of words we use matters so much, and reveals so much about our preferences, beliefs, prejudices, fears and so on. And the congruence – or lack of it – between those words and our actions is often a great barometer of our authenticity.

A few times in my career I’ve been asked by colleagues how it is that organisations have tended to adopt values or approaches I hold dear. I answered that I just talk about stuff sufficiently often that it becomes part of the meme soup of my working locality. That’s the attraction field, and I think it only forms when the congruence is there too. There have also been a few occasions when the force field hasn’t materialised, and in each case I was trying to force something without being it. As Ghandi said:

“Be the change you wish to see”

(Thanks to Nynke Fokma for reminding me of that quotation, and to the force field that brought both of these statements into my browser today.)

accessible = approachable = £££

In Accessible = Approachable = $$$ Scott Ginsberg (the guy who wears a name-tag 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) discusses the benefits of making sure you and your business are easily accessible. I know I’m no great shakes in the ‘approachable’ department, but last week I also discovered the truth in Scott’s words: three separate people in twenty-four hours independently told me they struggled to find my email address starting from pages in this blog. I hope I’ve fixed that now, but it does underline the point. So a big thank-you to those people who took the time and trouble to work out how to contact me, and then to give me feedback on their struggles. I wonder how many other people have just shrugged and left…

bouncers In the main, Scott writes about approachability – which is also vital to the success of an agile software development team. For example, anyone who wants to get a view of the team’s progress towards the next release needs to know in advance when they hold their daily stand-up meetings. And because feedback is the fuel of the agile process, it’s essential that development teams ensure that their team persona is also approachable. For example, it’s no good going into an iteration review with arms folded, and rejecting stakeholder comments with responses along the lines of “no, you’re wrong.” Because people will soon get the message and stop attending. At which point the team’s product begins to lose its way; morale, time to market and profitability will surely follow.

We software geeks have a lot to learn from Scott…